For the past 25 years Fazal Sheikh (born 1965) has highlighted the plight of displaced people and refugees around the world. He has photographed people driven from their homes by war as well as those upended by the redrawing of national borders and the reassertion of racial and ethnic divisions. Sheikh has also made sublime photographs of landscapes altered by political and environmental crises.
In recent years, the shift to the political right in the US has been replicated across Europe, the Middle East, Central and East Africa and Southeast Asia, as authoritarian governments and xenophobia have increased. As an act of refusal of these political trends, Sheikh sought out the celebrated novelist and critic Teju Cole (born 1975) for a collaboration that would reinforce their commitment to the ideal of a compassionate global community as well as the importance of individual courage.
The resulting book, now reprinted with a new cover, represents the two authors’ distinct visions, their shared values and mutual spirit of cooperation. With Cole’s words and Sheikh’s photos we are confronted with fundamental and newly necessary questions of co-existence: Who is my neighbor? Who is kin to me? Who is a stranger? What does it mean to be human?
In the summer of 2020, their collaboration suddenly halted by COVID-19, photographer Fazal Sheikh (born 1965) and writer, educator and activist Terry Tempest Williams (born 1955) found themselves 5,000 miles apart, Sheikh in Zurich, Switzerland, Tempest Williams in Castle Valley, Utah. Like so many others, they communicated across the days and nights by text and email, reflecting on the state of politics as the pandemic spread across the world. Looking back over his work, Sheikh decided to make a gift for Tempest Williams as a gesture of friendship and respect in troubled times. He selected 30 images, one for each year of his life as an artist, corresponding to one complete cycle of the moon. Some weeks later, a package arrived in Zurich. Inside were 30 letters from Tempest Williams, each responding to a single image, written across 30 days, another lunar cycle. Studying the images had led her to wider, more philosophical considerations of the ways they connected to contemporary events: climate change, the rise of Black Lives Matter, the advances of women and—the focus of her work with Sheikh—their alliance with Native Nations in the American southwest supporting Bear Ears National Monument and the protection of these sacred lands. The spontaneous nature of the correspondence in the middle of the pandemic made it all the more immediate, and when images and words were placed together, both artists where surprised by the intimacy of what they created in isolation. They felt it could be an offering to others who shared their concerns and might find comfort in the exchanges. This book is the result of a friendship forged through art and their shared desire to collaborate on issues larger than themselves in a world broken and beautiful.
Published by Steidl. Text by Eduardo Cadava, Eyal Weizman. Poems by Mahmoud Darwish.
The Erasure Trilogy explores the anguish caused by the loss of memory-by forgetting, amnesia or suppression-and the resulting human desire to preserve memory, all seen through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Memory Trace, the first book in the trilogy, depicts the ruins caused by the Arab-Israeli War of 1948: portraits of those traumatized by violence, devastated landscapes and fragments of buildings. This visual poem suggests the irreparable loss of a lingering past that augurs a painful and difficult future. Tracing the ironic consequences of David Ben-Gurion's dream of settling the Negev and making the "desert bloom," the aerial photographs in Sheikh's Desert Bloom reveal the myriad actions that have displaced and erased the Bedouins who have lived in the desert for generations. Here we see the extreme transformation of the landscape through erosion, mining, military training camps, the demolition of villages and afforestation. Through Sheikh's lens the desert becomes both an archive of violence and a record of human attempts to erase it. Independence / Nakba consists of 66 diptychs-one for each year since 1948-pairing people from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of gradually increasing age. The double portraits query the relations between Israelis and Palestinians before the founding of the Israeli State (each image depicts either someone who lived in Palestine before the founding of the Israeli State, or someone whose ancestors did). A final volume with texts by Eduardo Cadava, Professor and Master at Wilson College, Princeton University and Eyal Weizman, Professor of Visual Cultures and Director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, closes The Erasure Trilogy.
The village of al-'Araqib has been destroyed and rebuilt more than 70 times in the ongoing "Battle over the Negev"--the Israeli state campaign to uproot the Palestinian Bedouins from the northern threshold of the desert. Unlike other frontiers fought over during the Palestine conflict, this one is not demarcated by fences and walls but by shifting climatic conditions. The threshold of the desert advances and recedes in response to colonization, cultivation, displacement, urbanization and, most recently, climate change. In his response to Sheikh's Desert Bloom series, Israeli intellectual and architect Eyal Weizman's essay incorporates historical aerial photographs, contemporary remote sensing data, state plans, court testimonies and 19th-century travelers' accounts, exploring the Negev's threshold as a "shoreline" along which climate change and political conflict are entangled.
The pictures in Ether--Fazal Sheikh's first book in color--were made as a way to honor the experience of death and to try to comprehend its significance. Benares (Varanasi) is one of India's sacred cities, where many Hindus come to die in the belief that they will find salvation. As he walked its streets by night, Sheikh observed sleeping figures, shrouded in blankets, lost to an oblivion that seemed, in that holy city, to offer a simulacrum of death. In watching these ambiguous figures, which hover in the imagination between a dream state, sleep and death, Sheikh recalled his own experience with his dying father and their passage together through his father's final days. He remembered it as an invaluable period of emotional connection with the body and soul of the person he knew and loved, a connection that reached back to his paternal ancestors, who had travelled south from northern India a century before. To lose oneself in sleep is to abandon the senses and leave the way open to a dream state in which mind and body separate.
Published by Steidl Photography International. Text by Eduardo Cadava.
For New York-born photographer-activist Fazal Sheikh, the portrait is an important tool. For more than two decades, as he has worked in different communities around the world, the invitation to sit for a portrait has been one of the principle means by which he has established a link with his subjects and been allowed to enter and document their lives. This volume contains the full range of Sheikh's work, from his earliest portraits taken in African refugee camps, through long-term projects in Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, Somalia and Kenya, to more recent work in South America and India. Many of his subjects have been displaced from their homes or their countries, and their lives have been lived under the threat of violence, poverty and discrimination. With a text by writer and theorist Eduardo Cadava, this book tackles difficult issues, raising the moral dilemma of documenting the lives of disadvantaged people within the context of contemporary art.
New York-born photographer and activist Fazal Sheikh closely crops his subjects’ faces, making their eyes the central focus of the frame, in turn forcing his viewers to face them. He captures portraits of communities around the world in an effort to bridge the gap between the diversity of human experience and the often-insurmountable differences in opportunity. This volume focuses on photographs of women, taken in India over the past five years. In his last two books, Moksha (2005) and Ladli (2007), Sheikh addressed the social and political implications of Indian women’s subordination and mistreatment, recording many stories of isolation and extreme abuse. In The Circle, Sheikh concentrates on the power of these women's gazes and their ability to engage our empathy and our curiosity. This series reflects an intimacy and directness between photographer and subject that challenges Westerners’ preconceptions about Indian women.
Published by Steidl/Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris.
In India it costs a poor family 50 rupees to hire a midwife to oversee the birth of a child. For an additional 10 rupees, the parents are assured that the birth of a girl will be met with an act of infanticide by the midwife. The alternative for many is an institution like the Delhi orphanage, in which Fazal Sheikh's work on the predicament of the girl-child in India begins--and 99 percent of that orphanage's population are girls. Girl Child follows on the heels of Sheik's 2005 Moksha, which documented the plight of the Indian widow, and for which, in combination with this companion volume, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson granted Sheikh its 2005 HCB Award. Sheikh's previous books include A Sense of Common Ground, The Victor Weeps, A Camel for the Son and Ramadan Moon. He was born in New York in 1965, and studied at Princeton University; he has received Fulbright and NEA fellowships, and presented his work at the Tate Modern, London, the International Center of Photography in New York and the United Nations. Sheikh is represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York City.
For 500 years the holy city of Vrindavan in northern India has been a haven for India's dispossessed widows. Cast out by their families and condemned by strict marital laws that deny them legal, economic, and, in extreme cases, even human rights, they have made their way to the city to worship at its temples and live in its ashrams, surviving on charitable handouts or begging on the streets. In Vrindavan they worship the young god Krishna, who invades their dreams, helping them to cast off memories from their past lives and prepare for new and better lives are to come. Their ultimate dream is to reach Moksha--heaven--where they will find freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth and live surrounded by their gods forever. Fazal Sheikh's photographs capture the meditative mood of the city and his portraits of the widows convey their sense of acceptance of life's nearing its end and a longing for what is to come. As in his previous books, he spent time with his subjects, listening to their stories, many of which reveal the suffering caused by traditions that still govern Indian society. Through his depiction of the city and its inhabitants, Fazal Sheikh once again contributes to our knowledge and understanding of a community whose existence, to those who live outside it, remains closed.